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Intel Debuts 25GbE NIC

March 21, 2017

Author: Loring Wirbel

As part of a broader 5G-infrastructure announcement, Intel unveiled single- and dual-port versions of a 25G Ethernet adapter that it intends for direct-attach twinax-copper links in servers. The new Ethernet Network Adapter XXV710 can support SFP28 short- and long-reach optics as well, but the company expects copper interfaces to dominate server applications at 25Gbps.

The adapter is based on the XL710 Fortville controller that first appeared in 10GbE/40GbE NICs nearly three years ago. The XL710 uses a PCI Express 3.0 host interface to provide 64Gbps of bidirectional bandwidth. Although the new adapter is optimized for sub-5m copper, the 4x10GbE/1x40GbE controller chip can link to 40GBase-CR4/KR4, and it offers XLPPI/XLAUI for connecting QSFP+ modules. The XXV710 uses an external PHY to convert 40GbE to 25GbE.

By offering single- and dual-port 25GbE NICs using a standard PCIe form factor, as well as a special single-port NIC using the Open Compute Project’s mezzanine form factor, Intel shows it expects the 25GbE adapter to play a broad role in the data center. The company demonstrated its adapters at the recent Open Compute Project (OCP) meeting, in part because it has already delivered the single-port version using the OCP’s mezzanine 2.0 Type 1 form factor.

Intel clearly has a follow-on to Fortville in the works but is wise to offer 25GbE NICs based on Fortville to preserve market share in median Ethernet speeds. Its next-generation Ethernet controller will likely support 50GbE and 100GbE in addition to 25GbE. In the meantime, the XXV710 is a placeholder to preserve market share rather than a radical step up from earlier NIC designs.

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